Cappellano

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A referral from one great producer often leads to another equally exceptional producer who, more often than not, shares our particular philosophy. In the case of the Cappellano estate in Serralunga d’Alba in the Langhe, we were introduced to Augusto Cappellano by our friends at the Podere Le Boncie (Giovanna Morganti and family and friends) in Tuscany. Le Boncie and Cappellano participate (along with the Bea family of Umbria and others) in a group known as “Vini Veri”, producers who share an ethic about viticulture and viniculture that is as much philosophical as it is about organic farming. After months of multiple conversations and correspondence amongst and between the participants, we gathered at the Cappellano cantina in late November, 2011 to taste and get to know one another. The result is that we now happily and proudly represent the wines of the Cappellano estate on an exclusive basis in the United States.

Augusto Cappellano is the fifth generation of the family to produce wine from vineyards in Serralunga d’Alba. His great-grandfather, Filippo, acquired substantial acreage there and, in 1870 established the azienda. At his death, his son, Giovanni, an oenologue, continued his father’s work, selling their wine to clients from Liguria through Piedmont. Giovanni’s brother, Giuseppe, was a pharmacist who created the family formula for their famous (then and again now) Barolo Chinato, the Barolo infused with a variety of “medicines”. Giovanni died in 1912 from a tropical fever contracted in Tunisia, perhaps while he was looking for vines that were not susceptible to phylloxera. Giuseppe then retired from his pharmaceutical chores to run the estate and he decided to sell his grapes to the Gancia company, one of the major wine producers in the Langhe. To continue the story, Giuseppe passed away in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Augusto’s father, Teobaldo, who was born and raised in Eritrea, returned to Serralunga to revive the azienda. He rebuilt the cantina and the image of Cappellano as well – this time much smaller in size (four hectares) but far more grand in quality. In his turn, he also produced once again the extraordinary Barolo Chinato using the ancient family recipe, all the while becoming one of the most admired and respected figures in the Barolo district. Augusto now takes the reins and will now place his special mark on the wines of this estate. We are very pleased to begin our collaboration with Augusto Cappellano.

The four hectares of vineyards owned by the Cappellano family are principally in Serralunga d’Alba and are supplemented by a small parcel in the neighboring village of Novello from which Cappellano produces his Nebiolo d’Alba. The vineyards in Serralunga are situated in the Gabutti cru which is on the western slopes of Serralunga at approximately 300 meters altitude. The land is farmed according to organic principles and the production of the wine is accomplished following the credo of “Vini Veri”: indigenous yeasts are relied upon, the use of sulfur is strictly limited, vinification is traditional (long fermentation, extended aging in large, old botte) and the wine is not filtered prior to bottling. The Barolo Chinato is produced by following the family recipe handed down generation to generation. The “medicinal” herbs and spices are ground using a stone mortar and pestle. Both the recipe and the process are family secrets.

Cappellano-back-label-DOLCETTO-DALBA Dolcetto d’Alba: There is a very limited amount of Dolcetto d’Alba produced at the estate. The tiny parcel of Dolcetto is in the Gabutti cru. The wine is aged for about one year prior to bottling and is released shortly thereafter.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BARBERA-DALBA-GABUTTI Barbera d’Alba: The situation for the Barbera is similar to that of the Dolcetto: grapes are sourced from a small parcel within the Gabutti cru in Serralunga d’Alba and production is exceedingly limited. In this instance, the wine is aged longer prior to release to give it additional time to define its identity.
Cappellano-back-label-NEBIOLO Nebiolo d’Alba: Notice that the Cappellano family has always referred to this grape variety with a single “b”, thus “Nebiolo”. The vines for this wine are in the neighboring village of Novello. Again, there is a very small production that complements the two stellar examples of Barolo that are produced at the cantina.
cappellano-Barolo-Pie-Rupestris-back-label Barolo Otin Fiorin Rupestris: This is the principal Barolo of the estate, at least in terms of quantity produced. The vineyard is the Gabutti cru and the exposure is south to southwest. After an extended fermentation and considerable aging in the classic “botte” of the region, the wine is bottled without filtration. The rhythm of the release is usually four to four and one-half years after the harvest. Stylistically, the wine is an honest and pure reflection of the terroir of this small but important cru: earthy, truffled aromas marry to a full-bodied, occasionally rustic character backed by rugged, classic tannins. The Barolos of Serralunga are known for their generosity and warmth and the “Rupestris” is as fine an example as one can find.
Cappellano-BACK-label-BAROLO-PIE-FRANCO-MICHET Barolo Otin Fiorin Pie Franco: Cappellano produces a limited bottling from vines that are original pre-phylloxera rootstock. Although planted in the same Gabutti cru, the wine itself can be dramatically different than the “Rupestris”, its brother wine, all this due to the difference between the “pre” and “post” phylloxera origins of the vines. There is an “exoticism” perhaps to the “Pie Franco”, an ethereal element to its aromas and flavors that make this a unique offering … clearly a rare and special experience.
AB Normal 2016

Cappellano AB Normal Vino Rosso NV: Occasionally we are presented with a wine that falls a little outside the normal progression of vintages from a particular grower. These might come about due to an extreme vintage, a strange development during vinification or elevage, or something completely out of the realm of the normal course of cellar work. In the spring of 2016, we will release a small quantity of one such anomaly, from the cellar of Augusto Cappellano. The wine was actually vinified by his father, the late Teobaldo Cappellano, as it comes from the classic 2004 vintage. The wine itself is somewhat unusual to begin with, as it is sourced from old Barbera vines found in the heart of the famed Gabutti vineyard in Barolo. His neighbors have questioned him for years on the existence of these vines in such valuable Nebbiolo terroir, however Augusto feels that Barbera is equally at home in this environment and has let the vines continue to produce. The current release of the Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti” is the 2011, however the spring release will include this small batch of 2004 to accompany it.

The older wine has not been sitting around in bottle all this time; one 1500-liter barrel was left full of the 2004 vintage Barbera for an astonishing ten years, before being put into bottle in 2015. The aging regimen disqualifies it from any appellation norms, thus the wine loses the right to be called Barbera d’Alba, or to even carry a vintage designation for that matter. To come up with a name, Augusto referenced the classic Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein” and the abnormal brain that played a pivotal role in that movie. The character Igor mistakenly supplies Dr. Frankenstein with a brain that he believes belongs to “Abby Normal”, not realizing that it is actually an “Abnormal” brain, not to be used. The name of the wine is thus “AB Normal” in a subtle wink to this scene.

Cappellano-CINATO

Barolo Chinato: One cannot say much, certainly not enough, about the Chinato from Cappellano since the production and recipe are closely held secrets within the family. Suffice it to say that the family has produced an iconic version of this wine infused with spices, herbs and other earthly elements that make for a ravishing sensory experience. Here are a duo of ways to enjoy the Cappellano Chinato …

  • As an aperitif: 4 parts gin, 4 parts Campari, 2 parts Chinato, a touch of ice plus a slice of orange.
  • As a “thirst quencher”: cold sparkling water plus 10% of the volume in Chinato with the juice of a freshly squeezed lime accompanied by a slice of lime.And, Augusto Cappellano reminds us: don’t forget the pleasure of drinking the Chinato accompanied by the best chocolate one can find!

The 2016 Vintage at Cappellano

The traditionalism of the Cappellano family in Serralunga d’Alba is not one of blind adherence to the past. It is a searching, intelligent traditionalism, one which prioritizes accumulated wisdom and connectedness to the land over the allure of technology and the pressures of the market. Such an approach was justly considered radical in the 1980s and ‘90s, a time in which Barolo was struggling to overcome the relative poverty of the post-war era and attract a larger audience. In that era, the legendary Teobaldo Cappellano’s pointedly philosophical rejection of modern methods flew in the face of Barolo’s aspirationalism; at the same time, his revolutionary ardor helped galvanize an entire movement of like-minded winegrowers—one that has only gained momentum in the ensuing years.

Since his passing in 2009, Baldo’s son Augusto has helmed the family estate, tending their three-hectare morsel of the famed cru of Gabutti in Serralunga d’Alba nearly entirely by himself. Augusto, tall and wiry, with a remarkably warm countenance, approaches his work with the same spirit of revolutionary traditionalism as his father; rather than mimicking Baldo’s approach with rigid obeisance, he has made subtle alterations that serve to enhance the wines’ purity and expressiveness: slightly shortening the duration of barrel-aging due to a warming climate hastening the wines’ evolution; replacing a leaky centenarian cask here and there; pruning less aggressively to extend the lifespan of his vines. Augusto understands innately that his father was not trying to establish a how-to guide, but was seeking ever more intimate connections between wine and land, and the wines under his stewardship are as gorgeous and lively as they have ever been.

Cappellano’s methods, both in the vineyards and in the cellar, are time-tested, straightforward, and unobtrusive. Augusto farms his three hectares of Gabutti without synthetic chemicals, working the steep west-oriented face of the slope—the old heart of the cru before it was expanded—totally by hand. Plenty of cover crop is maintained; the soil teems with life. The wines ferment naturally, as they always have, in enormous open-top Slavonian casks, sometimes with a submerged cap, sometimes without, as the vintage dictates. Aging takes place in 50-hectoliter Slavonian oak, with minimal sulfur adjustments, and clarification only through gravity and patience. The Barbera—which the family refuses to rip up although they could triple their asking price by replanting it to Nebbiolo—is treated with the same dignity as the Barolo, a testament to the family’s defiant and proud traditionalism.

2016 Barbera d’Alba “Gabutti”
Frequently, Barbera in the Langhe is treated either very simplistically, with a vinification and brief passage in stainless steel, or very lavishly, with heavy-handed extraction and long aging in barrels that signify their newness without subtlety. Cappellano, however, takes a simpler approach: he treats it just like his Barolo, with a lengthy maceration and a multi-year passage in large neutral casks. The resultant wine is always astonishing in its depth, showing the complexity this variety can achieve when grown in a great terroir such as Gabutti and treated with unflashy reverence. Vintage after vintage, it stands as a benchmark, and the 2015 offers brazen minerality, with scrappy tannins hanging in perfect balance with dusty black-cherry fruit and gleaming acidity. It is always worth holding this wine for a few years before opening, as time allows it to soften its edges and articulate its noble origins with greater force.

2016 Barolo “Piè Rupestris”
Since the pernicious vine disease flavescenza dorata decimated Cappellano’s small holdings in the nearby town of Novello a few vintages back, their three hectares in the cru Gabutti are all that remain. And, of those three hectares, the Nebbiolo planted on the lower third of the slope is used entirely for their fabled Barolo Chinato—meaning that this Barolo comprises only the heart of their holding, from vines planted in the late 1940s. “Pie Rupestris” combines stony power, firm structure, and pure, soaring fruit in a manner that creates wonderful tension, yet the overall impression is one of seamless harmony. [NOTE: Cappellano conspicuously excludes the word “Gabutti” from the label in protest of the expansion of the cru’s boundaries some years back.]

2016 Barolo “Piè Franco”
One of the rarest and most coveted wines in Barolo, Cappellano’s “Piè Franco” comes from a miniscule section of their Gabutti holdings which Teobaldo planted to ungrafted Nebbiolo in 1989—a gesture of “revolutionary traditionalism” if ever there was one. Fortunately, the vines have managed to survive, and the wine they produce provides an endlessly fascinating counterpart to the “Piè Rupestris” above. Although it is produced in identical fashion, “Piè Franco” is silkier in texture, more ethereal, and more complex overall—compelling one to imagine what Barolo might have been like before the ravages of phylloxera.

Barolo Chinato
The elixir known as Barolo Chinato was actually invented by the Cappellano family, with Giuseppe Cappellano—a pharmacist by trade—developing the recipe in the late 19th century as a digestive aid. The family recipe has remained unchanged since the earliest days, transferred via handwritten letter during each generational shift. Augusto still crushes the herbs and spices by hand with the family’s old cast-iron mortar and pestle, and the steps to creating the perfect mixture are complex and difficult; Augusto told us it took him years, beginning as a young child, to master the technique. The results of this arcane process are nothing short of sublime: a heady mélange of herbs and spices on the nose, with a rich, chocolatey palate that remains vibrant and balanced, and a near-dangerous level of deliciousness.

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